The library of Martin Kropff

Published on
June 19, 2007

It almost goes without saying that we feature a member of the Executive Board of Wageningen UR in "The library of..." in this special issue of the newsletter. In his office we talk with Martin Kropff, Rector Magnificus and Vice-chairman, on the day that the Library is in a void, the old libraries being abandoned and the new one being occupied. It is hardly necessary to ask questions as Martin Kropff recalls enthusiastically how he, as a student, as a scientist, and as a professor, used the library. The large well-stocked book shelves in his room emphasize his story.

"In the first years of my biology study in Utrecht I had not done much with scientific literature actually, until I came to do a major in Theoretical Production Ecology with Professor C.T. de Wit in Wageningen. In the cafeteria of CABO (now part of PRI) we had reprints of all publications of the staff. That was a revelation for me; all of it was a 100% relevant for my research there. The CABO library, under the excellent and customer oriented management of Els Geurts, was an accessible library with a fantastic collection of journals. I was an avid user of the recent journal issues. It was an el dorado for a student/researcher who constantly browses through the literature."

The combination of a well-stocked library and a research group that was one of the first to work with computers (Apple Macintosh) made it possible for Kropff to have a well functioning electronic catalogue for his literature even in the mid eighties. "All my reprints and my copies were coded and easily traceable in my data base. I have been using it until five years ago."

After a stay abroad (at IRRI, International Rice Institute, in the Philippines a.o.) where he used the excellent library by sending article requests, he came back to CABO (in the mean time renamed AB) in 1995, just as the digital library was taking shape. "I have embraced the digital library immediately, because it is the ideal way to get hold of the information you need. I was familiar with Current Contents - at first on paper, later digitally - in which I searched for articles. Thanks to the digital library I could get immediate access to the full text."

When hearing this argument in favor of the digital library, one becomes curious about the opinion of the Rector regarding the new Forum library. Is a physical library really necessary when there is so much emphasis on digital information? "It is my own experience - and I also see this in today's students - that one needs a quiet and inspiring environment to study well. A library, preferably a well-stocked one, can offer that par excellence." And: "in spite of the great importance attached to digital information sources, we certainly cannot neglect the importance of information on paper. Books and journals are tangible and they represent more than just the information in them."

Martin Kropff stresses how important it is that students and staff use the information at their disposal well. "Good and efficient research also demands that we know exactly what others have done. Then you stand on the shoulders of others, and that enables you to go further."

Confronted with the fact that Wageningen UR uses digital information sources remarkably often and intensively, Kropff is not surprised. "Scientifically we are doing very well, we operate internationally; we acknowledge the great importance of publishing and of being cited. Science for impact is our motto. Scientific impact, but with social relevance."

"I am proud of the Forum building and of the new library. It is a place where I shall come regularly to show my visitors around."

(Newsletter 4-2007)